County adopts growth policy

Dwight Harriman

It’s done.

After years of public hearings, questionnaires, workshops, interviews, revisions and more revisions, Park County adopted an updated growth policy in anticlimactic fashion during a final meeting on the issue Thursday morning that lasted five minutes.

An audience of six people, which included several Park County staff, attended the session.

“I think it’s a thorough and comprehensive policy that addresses issues that are important to the community,” a pleased County Commission Chairman Steve Caldwell said after the meeting.

The growth policy is a nonregulatory document designed to serve as a guide in considering everything from land use to housing needs, public facilities, natural resources, subdivisions and other issues in Park County. Planners gathered input for the document from local residents as well as individuals and entities with a special interest in the process, such as businesses, ranchers, recreationists and landowners.

Work on the policy technically began in 2013, when a periodic review, as mandated by state law, determined the existing policy needed updating. There were lulls in the process as the county got tied up with other projects and sought funding, but then it kicked into high gear in January 2016 when an updated draft policy went before the public.

Park County Planner Mike Inman said after the session that a lot of careful work went into updating the growth policy.

“There isn’t a community that’s gone through such an extensive process as we have,” he said.

Inman said that what distinguishes this policy is how civil that process was.

At the Thursday meeting, some statements were added to the policy based on the final public comments made during an April 6 County Commission hearing.

They include:

• “Encouraging protection of open lands, agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, scenic views and other natural amenities through voluntary conservation easements in suitable areas.”

• “Park County supports access to and the use of public lands and waters.”

 • “Zoning regulations in cities as authorized under Montana zoning statutes and case law in counties are a legitimate use of government authority to provide for the public health, safety, and welfare of its citizens provided they are reasonable and have a substantial relationship to those goals.”

Inman said the zoning statement, from a public comment made by Ken Cochrane at the April 6 hearing, is simply an acknowledgement of what zoning is and the fact that any zoning by a city or county must follow state requirements.

The final updated growth policy will be available to the public on May 1, online at and in paper copies. The public will be able to view copies at libraries, chambers of commerce and at the Planning Department. Hard copies will also be available for purchase, at a price yet to be determined.

“I think this … is a good growth policy,” Commissioner Clint Tinsley said after the Thursday meeting, adding that now, “We can move on with other things Park County needs taken care of.”


Dwight Harriman may be reached at